OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's opposition Liberals have lost the slight lead in popular support they had over the governing Conservatives and the two parties are now in a statistical "dead heat", a new poll said on Thursday.
A weekly Ekos survey put the Liberals at 32.2 percent support, unchanged from last week while the Conservatives edged up to 31.8 percent from 31.0 percent. Ekos considers the standings to be a tie due to the margin of error.
The left-leaning New Democratic Party was at 16.0 percent, down slightly from 16.2 percent.
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff -- a well-known author, broadcaster and historian who spent nearly 30 years abroad before returning to Canada in 2005 -- has been working hard recently to gain support outside his traditional base in urban Central Canada.
Ignatieff ventured into Western Canada over the weekend, making an appearance at the annual Calgary Stampede in Alberta, where he faced off against Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is more popular there by a wide margin.
Ekos pollster Frank Graves said Ignatieff's effort did not pay off and argued that the party leaders should spend their political capital in the central province of Ontario, where the race is much closer.
"It is clear ... that Ignatieff's persistent attempts to woo Albertans have gone nowhere so far," Graves said. "Ontario continues to be the place where governments will be made or unmade."
The Liberals are ahead of the Conservatives in Ontario 39.2 percent to 33.9 percent yet almost half of Ontario residents surveyed said they were happy with the direction Harper was taking the country.
Recent Ekos polls have largely shown the Liberals slightly ahead, but not by enough to guarantee any kind of election victory. Under Canada's first-past-the-post system, a party needs around 36 percent or 37 percent of the vote to stand a chance of forming a minority government.
The Conservatives won elections in January 2006 and October 2008, but failed both times to win a majority of the 308 seats in the House of Commons. This means they need the support of other parties to govern.
The Ekos automated telephone survey of 3,088 adults was conducted between June 30 and July 7 and is considered accurate to within 1.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20
Reporting by Louise Egan; editing by Peter Galloway